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Out Of The Ordinary

Out Of The Ordinary: Folklore and the Supernatural

Barbara Walker editor
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Out Of The Ordinary
    Book Description:

    This contributed volume explores the functions of belief and supernatural experience within an array of cultures, as well as the stance of academe toward the study of belief and the supernatural. The essays in this volume call into question the idea that supernatural experience is extraordinary. Among the contributors are Shelley Adler, David Hufford, Barre Toelken, and Gillian Bennett.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-320-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Barbara Walker
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The essays in this volume call into question the idea that the supernatural is something strange or even extraordinary, and reading them as a whole brings attention to the fact that aspects of the supernatural are comfortably incorporated into everyday life in a variety of cultures (even in those “advanced” communities that emphasize formal education and technological sophistication). These assimilated aspects of the supernatural act as an integral part of belief constructions and behavior patterns, and, in many instances, have significant cultural function and effect.

    The realm of the supernatural is inextricably connected to belief, and belief is rooted near...

  5. I. Perception, Belief, and Living

    • [I. Introduction]
      (pp. 9-10)

      From the moment we are born, our world is patterned by our culture, and this includes not only what we eat or wear or say or do, but also to some extent our ability to perceive, what we know or believe, and how we think. These things are basic and instilled so early that it is as though the world were actually created in the image our culture provides. Cradled in language and human interaction, a way to live is unfurled and becomes the standard for defining and evaluating life’s experiences.

      But some experiences exist independent of culture, and these...

    • 1 Beings Without Bodies: An Experience-Centered Theory of the Belief in Spirits
      (pp. 11-45)
      David J. Hufford

      This essay concerns a particular set of “folk beliefs,” that is, unofficial beliefs. The meanings and implications of this definition are discussed at some length below. Most academic theories have assumed that folk belief—especially beliefs about spirits—is false or at least unfounded, “non-rational” and “non-empirical.” Because my experience-centered theory is contrary to this very powerful and old intellectual tradition, the following exposition must be somewhat complex. It will, therefore, be helpful for the reader to know where we are going right at the start: the “bottom line” of my experience-centered theory is the proposition that much folk belief...

    • 2 The Moccasin Telegraph and Other Improbabilities: A Personal Essay
      (pp. 46-58)
      Barre Toelken

      In 1956, I took my parents on a sudden unplanned trip to meet the Navajos I had been living with for the previous two years. I had borrowed a friend’s car, and we had driven all night long from Salt Lake City to Blanding, a tiny town in Utah’s southeast corner. We arrived just after dawn in the Navajo settlement called Westwater, just on the opposite side of a small canyon that marks Blanding’s western edge, and as we drove up to the hogan of my friend, Grandma Johnson, we could see and smell the juniper smoke from her fire....

    • 3 Folklore, Foodways, and the Supernatural
      (pp. 59-72)
      Timothy C. Lloyd

      I conceive of folklore as the intersection of artfulness and everyday life. I say artfulness, rather than art, for a reason: folklore does not depend on the creation of works of art comparable to those of “high” art. Very often this artfulness is exercised in the making of everyday things. These things don’t have to be objects, such as baskets, quilts, or fishnets. They can also be practices or occasions: storytelling, games, meals, and so on. Saying artfulness instead of art also, appropriately, directs our attention to the process of creation as well as to the things created. When this...

  6. II. Supernatural Power and Other Worlds:: Making Contact

    • [II. Introduction]
      (pp. 73-74)

      Throughout the world, it is not unusual to find cultures where people believe in an afterlife or in spiritual healing or in premonition. But often, when individuals are attempting to contact someone who has died, or they are seeking supernatural healing or trying to divine the future, people will contact an intermediary—a person to act as a guide or interpreter, someone who will somehow interface between this world and the afterlife or with supernatural powers or forces. This person may be considered a shaman, a witch doctor, a fortune teller, a healer, a sensitive, a psychic, or somehow especially...

    • 4 Ghosts, Spirits, and Scholars: The Origins of Modern Spiritualism
      (pp. 75-89)
      Kenneth D. Pimple

      Starting in 1850, through most of the nineteenth century, thousands of Americans of every class were enraptured, entertained, and mesmerized by drawing-room seances in which the spirits of the dead were reputedly conjured up to answer, primarily through audible raps, any question put to them. As R. Laurence Moore puts it, “Scarcely another cultural phenomenon affected as many people or stimulated as much interest as did spiritualism in the ten years before the Civil War and, for that matter, through the subsequent decades of the nineteenth century.”¹ There are not nearly as many believers in Modern Spiritualism² today as there...

    • 5 Aftermath of a Failed Seance: The Functions of Skepticism in a Traditional Society
      (pp. 90-106)
      Maxine Miska

      I remember hearing a story once about an atheist riding on a bus who said, “God, if you really exist, make a rainbow appear in the sky right now.” Suddenly, a rainbow appeared. The atheist remarked, “What a coincidence! A rainbow!”

      Belief in the supernatural or the transcendent is clearly not simply the result of one’s experiences. Belief systems provide the a priori interpretations for experience. The belief system persists, as though carried along by its own inertia, even if events occur which appear to subvert it.

      I had the opportunity to witness the vitality and durability of a supernatural...

    • 6 Supernatural Experience, Folk Belief, and Spiritual Healing
      (pp. 107-121)
      James McClenon

      Supernatural experiences provide a foundation for spiritual healing. The concept supernatural is culturally specific, since some societies regard all perceptions as natural; yet certain events—such as apparitions, out-of-body and near-death experiences, extrasensory perceptions, precognitive dreams, and contact with the dead—promote faith in extraordinary forces. Supernatural experiences can be defined as those sensations directly supporting occult beliefs. Supernatural experiences are important because they provide an impetus for ideologies supporting occult healing practices, the primary means of medical treatment throughout antiquity.

      My analysis is based on surveys of random samples of American, Chinese, and Japanese student populations, as well as...

    • 7 “If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Cake”: The Folklore of Foreknowledge in a Neighborhood Group
      (pp. 122-142)
      Gillian Bennett

      In 1705, the British antiquarian John Beaumont observed that:

      To say absolutely, that all dreams, without distinction, are vain Visions and Sports of Nature … and to banish all Divination from the Life of Man … is contrary to Experience and the common Consent and Agreement of Mankind.¹

      The focus of this essay is this “common consent and agreement” about knowledge of the future, as it is understood by a group of elderly women in my own hometown, and the ways in which I believe that the women’s social situation and moral code shape the folklore that they share. I...

  7. III. Demons and Gods:: Cultural Adaptations and Incorporations

    • [III. Introduction]
      (pp. 143-144)

      Within a society, elements of the supernatural might be included within a broad spectrum of belief, but how that assimilation takes place or in what form varies from culture to culture. This final section provides three rather diverse accounts of how the supernatural functions among groups in the United States.

      In Chapter 8, Erika Brady provides an intriguing look into the world of evil spirits, exorcisms, and Roman Catholic priests. Through her students, Brady collected several accounts in which an individual either was possessed by or somehow encountered a malevolent force, and, accordingly, sought the help of a Catholic priest....

    • 8 Bad Scares and Joyful Hauntings: “Priesting” the Supernatural Predicament
      (pp. 145-158)
      Erika Brady

      Scrooge’s interpretive dilemma is a common one in the narrative arts—a dilemma faced by fictional characters which extends to include a real-life audience of readers and listeners. Whether the tone of the work is gently facetious, profoundly serious, or calculatingly sensational, the author portrays a character caught in a situation that suggests a supernatural action or presence, while at the same time offering clues to the circumstances, motives, and psychological state of the character that equally suggest a mundane explanation: an interpretive ambiguity that both attracts and repels. “Gravy” or “grave”? The author turns the screw until the tension...

    • 9 The Tourist Folklore of Pele: Encounters with the Other
      (pp. 159-179)
      Joyce D. Hammond

      Every year hundreds of packages and letters are sent to tourist bureaus, travel agencies, hotels, and national parks in the Hawaiian Islands from people who have visited the islands as tourists. The packages, sent most frequently from the U.S. mainland,¹ contain volcanic rock, sand, or articles made from volcanic material. Many of the packages also contain confessional letters which explain that at the time of their visit, the senders either did not believe in or did not know of the curse attributed to Pele, Hawaiian “goddess of volcanoes.” Subsequently, however, the tourists, and sometimes those upon whom they bestowed the...

    • 10 Terror in Transition: Hmong Folk Belief in America
      (pp. 180-202)
      Shelley R. Adler

      With the fall of the capital city of Vientiane in 1975, thousands of Hmong fled their native Laos and, often after extended delays in Thai refugee camps, began arriving in North America. In the West, the Hmong are more widely known than other Laotian ethnic groups because of their efforts during the war in Vietnam, especially after it spread to Laos and Cambodia. Thousands of Hmong were funded directly and secretly by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to combat the Communist Pathet Lao. Hmong men served as soldiers, pilots, and navigators, and their familiarity with the mountain terrain helped make...

  8. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 203-211)
  9. Editor
    (pp. 212-212)
  10. Contributors
    (pp. 213-214)
  11. Index
    (pp. 215-218)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 219-219)